Is alcohol a factor in unsafe sex among women seeking emergency
contraception? A two part study
A. Loxley (1), S. O’Keeffe (2), K. Cahill (1)
Department of Education, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland (1);
Crisis Pregnancy Agency, Dublin, Ireland (2)
Objectives: Alcohol is one factor identified in the literature as
playing an important role in determining: a) whether sex takes place; b) whether
contraception is used and used effectively. However, the relationship between
alcohol and unsafe sexual behaviours is not a clear one. This research was
initiated by Dublin Well Woman Centre (DWWC), as feedback from their staff and
other practitioners suggested that alcohol consumption was associated with an
increased demand for emergency contraception (EC). This research aimed to
describe the pattern of alcohol consumption among women requesting EC during the
period in which unsafe sex took place. A comparison group of non-EC clients was
used to examine whether drinking patterns were different between client groups.
This research tested the hypothesis that variables such as age and relationship
status would affect alcohol use, contraceptive use and unsafe sex.
Design and Methods: Both quantitative and qualitative approaches were
used. Questionnaires were administered to consecutive attendees at a sample of
DWWC clinical sessions, representative of all available clinic times for a 9
week period. Data were analysed using SPSS computer software. Clients presenting
for EC were invited to participate in a semi-structured interview. Interviews
were tape recorded, transcribed and analysed using a thematic analytic approach.
Results: A total of 230 women seeking EC completed the questionnaire
(97% response rate) and 222 non EC clients (95% response rate). The demographic
and social characteristics of the EC group closely mirrored those of the non EC
group. For example, 64% versus 36% were young women between 20–29 years
respectively; 38% versus 45% had a third level qualification; 61% versus 79% had
full time jobs and 77% versus 84% were in a relationship of some description.
Statistical tests found that the drinking patterns of women requesting EC did
not differ significantly from other clinic clients. Prior to seeking EC, 64% of
the EC clients reported to having used some form of contraception on the
occasion when unsafe sex occurred. Findings suggest that whether women
requesting EC drink alcohol or not, a majority of women used contraception.
Eight interviews were conducted with EC clients (the majority declined to
participate). Both quantitative and qualitative data suggested that women
experience problems with using contraception correctly and consistently.
Conclusions: These findings directly challenge the myth that women who
request EC, do so after casual sex and after being drunk. This data has
important clinical implications with respect to the training of family planning
practitioners, contraceptive advice and risk communication and addressing
information needs of women.